Ben Masters—the force behind the widely-acclaimed documentary Unbranded—began his own story in the West working at a guest ranch in Colorado.
“I learned horsemanship that summer,” the native Texan recalls. “We did pack trips to Yellowstone National Park and I totally fell in love with it.”
After graduating from Texas A&M with a degree in Wildlife Biology, Masters and two friends had the bold idea to adopt wild horses, train them, and ride them from Mexico to Canada along the Continental Divide, through some of the American West’s wildest backcountry. The adventure inspired him to do a repeat trip—this time with a film crew, to tell the story of America’s wild horses and vanishing public lands.
“We raised a bunch of money on Kickstarter.com, and we made a movie!” says Masters, referring to Unbranded. The experience led to new opportunities for the college-student-turned-wilderness-packer-turned-cowboy-filmmaker to express his love for the West and its inhabitants through creative platforms. He says, “I really enjoy seeing my work make a difference, whether that’s inspiring someone to adopt a wild horse, or fundraise for a cause.”
Now more than ever, explains Masters, its important to educate the public on the threats encroaching on the Western way of life—a mission he’s undertaken through film, photography, and writing projects.
“I think the American West is witnessing a very big transition,” he says. “With all the changes, there will be ecological consequences to landscape, to wildlife, to ways of life, and to cultures.”
In addition to being the mastermind behind Unbranded, he’s also a filmmaker and writer for National Geographic Adventure, helped produce the documentary Charged, and is working on multiple independent conservation projects.
The work of a professional storyteller can be both exciting and daunting. Though the mission is gratifying, the means can be difficult. In addition to an erratic work schedule, there’s the financial uncertainty of an irregular paycheck and the laborious and expensive process of getting a project off the ground. To turn Unbranded into a reality, Masters worked a variety of jobs—outfitting, managing property, training horses, and working on oil rigs—all to get enough capital to buy the necessary cameras and equipment.
“I just didn’t quit,” he says. “I worked really hard to get lucky.”
In addition to passion and work ethic, Masters advises burgeoning creatives to surround themselves with good people. He says, “What got me where I am today was surrounding myself with really good people who are smarter and more talented than I am—really good teammates to help guide me.
What’s your story?
• For those without access to traditional funding sources, Masters recommends a crowd-sourcing site like Kickstarter.com to raise money.
• Start honing your craft with how-to guides on equine and wildlife photography with books like Horse Photography: The Dynamic Guide for Horse Lovers by Carol J. Walker and The Complete Guide to Nature Photography by Sean Arbabi.